by Peter Hasson
Within the span of eight days in January, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced two different key changes to Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm that together have boosted a “trusted” minority of news outlets while suppressing their competitors.
First, Facebook would slash news articles’ share of the newsfeed from five percent to four percent in the coming months, Zuckerberg said. Second, Facebook would boost certain “trusted” news outlets and suppress other, ostensibly less trustworthy sources.
The algorithm changes have disproportionately harmed conservative publishers, tech website The Outline concluded in a lengthy report earlier in March. Conservative and right-wing publishers “were hit the hardest” by the algorithm change, the report found, “while the engagement numbers of most predominantly liberal publishers remained unaffected.”
Conservative website Western Journalism reached the same conclusion in a similar data report last week. Conservative websites saw a significant drop in traffic from Facebook following the algorithm change, while comparable liberal sources saw a slight increase, that report found.
Facebook has no plans to identify which media outlets it’s boosting and which ones it’s suppressing, a company spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation on the phone, arguing that releasing the data would provide an incomplete picture of Facebook’s newsfeed makeup.
“We’ve made changes to News Feed to help people meaningfully connect with friends and family first. This means public pages of all types are going to experience declines across Facebook. Political pages and partisan news pages, like other public pages, have experienced declines, but there are examples of declines across the political spectrum,” the spokesperson added in a written statement.
Facebook said it surveyed users to help determine which media sources are trusted. The poll was just two questions: Whether users had heard of a website (yes or no) and how much they trusted each website (with five answers ranging from “entirely” to “not at all.”)
The generic survey doesn’t appear to be the final authority on which outlets Facebook considers “trusted.” While speaking at a tech conference in February, Facebook executive Campbell Brown indicated that Facebook would boost “quality” news sources, even if they didn’t have widespread name recognition (and thus polled poorly).
“So much of the best journalism today is being done by smaller, more niche, more focused journalists who aren’t gonna have the brand recognition,” Brown said. “To me, this is the future of journalism. This is where the experts are gonna be.” Brown, a former NBC and CNN anchor, said Facebook is now going to have a “point of view” towards the news.
“This is us changing our relationship with publishers and emphasizing something that Facebook has never done before: It’s having a point of view, and it’s leaning into quality news,” Brown said of the newsfeed changes. She added that Facebook is “taking a step to try to define what quality news looks like, and give that a boost.”
Conservatives essentially have to take Facebook’s word for it that they’re being treated fairly, since Facebook won’t reveal which publishers are considered “trusted” and which aren’t.
Facebook has faced credible accusations of suppressing conservative content in the past.
Multiple former Facebook employees told Gizmodo in 2016 that Facebook intentionally and consistently suppressed conservative content, and would blacklist conservative figures from the site’s “trending topics” section.
While suppressing conservative content, the employees said, Facebook boosted liberal topics like Black Lives Matter into the trending topics, even if they weren’t actually trending. Facebook denied the accusations but revamped its trending topics section shortly afterwards. (RELATED: Snopes, Which Is Fact-Checking For Facebook, Employs Leftists Almost Exclusively)
Facebook is currently under fire from liberal activists following reports earlier in March that Republican data firm Cambridge Analytica deceptively gathered Facebook data in its campaign work.
Cambridge’s data operations are overpriced and ineffective, political operatives and consultants who have worked with the firm told TheDCNF. Even so, liberal activists have used the controversy to pressure Facebook to more closely police its platform and Democratic politicians have threatened to impose federal regulations on Facebook. (RELATED: YouTube Secretly Using SPLC To Police Videos)
Some conservatives have warned that Facebook will strangle conservative messaging on the platform — giving the Left a massive political advantage — in order to placate liberals who might otherwise regulate the company.
“This latest story on Cambridge Analytica is just part of a larger attempt to convince social media companies that the best way to fly under the radar is to shut down conservative opinions — and the Leftists who run Silicon Valley are more than likely to embrace that solution, even as they claim they’re merely attempting political neutrality,” said Daily Wire editor in chief Ben Shapiro in a column on Monday. “It’s not a coincidence that Facebook’s new algorithms have slammed conservative Facebook traffic.”
“Conservative activists and publishers need to think long and hard about how to reach their audience when the tech giants are proving themselves willing to filter out their content, and when they’ve come up with tools for alternately repressing speech and enabling political manipulation, so long as it goes the right way,” National Review’s Michael Brendan Dougherty argued in a column this week.
“To the center-Left, it doesn’t matter how much Silicon Valley’s tools enable extremists in the Third World, or how much wealth they extract from the public treasuries through their tax-sheltering arrangements,” Dougherty wrote. “All that matters is that the new tools continue to keep the center-Left in power, and make them look glamorous and smart. This is a deal that Silicon Valley will take.”
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